Back in the Saddle
On stage at Blanco's open mike night late last month, Clay Farmer -- sporting trendy Buddy Hollyesque eyeglasses -- talked a little about his grandmother, about how she couldn't see a hand in front of her face but could pluck a quarter from the lawn in the middle of the night. The tale was Farmer's way of segueing into "Granny's Song," an original reverie that features a melodically somber refrain over slow and wispy acoustic strumming. Seeing Farmer here, as he takes another step back into the scene after breaking up his band earlier this year, was welcome. Yet the irony of the situation was heavier than a bout of achy-breaky heart: As Farmer sang the first line of the song, "Granny thought she was a millionaire," he stood, stroking his blond six-string, between hanging neon beer signs that bore the names Alan Jackson and George Strait, two country millionaires if ever there were any.
In Farmer's mind, this image of a hat-wearin', rhinestone-hoardin', crazy-'bout-a-Ford-truck-singin' cowpoke (vis-à-vis Jackson and Strait) is keeping him from not quite being a millionaire but allowing him to experience some success. Since his band's breakup (see Amplified, "That Lonesome Sound," January 20), Farmer has received little nibbles from investors and labels, but the Gen-Xer says every time he sits down to discuss his career, he is asked to don the ten-gallon lid, button up the button-down and play the role of Nashville assembly-line item. And that's just something he ain't fixin' to do.
"It's just not me," says Farmer later in an interview. "I'd hate to put that [image] out there. I don't know. I don't wanna be too pointed about being a country artist."
There is nothing more exhausting than blather about how every major country superstar is a charlatan. Shania, Faith, Brooks & Dunn, Alan. Acts like these, according to the backward-ass soul two stools away at your local icehouse, can't compare to the likes of Waylon, Merle and Willie, true occupational cowboys. (Yeah, right.) Yet, in country, a performer has the choice of assuming one of only two identities: suburbanite with a twang or hard-livin' rebel with whiskey in his throat and Hank in his heart. (And it is in Amplified's opinion that today's retro rebels are more disingenuous than all the Shanias and Garths put together. They use the sweat of yesterday's voices merely to present themselves as alternatives to what's popular. Every last one of 'em wants his name in neon from Austin to Alberta.)
Farmer's stuck in the middle. A Faulkner in a world of country illiterates and plagiarists (and John Grishams), Farmer is more akin to Lyle Lovett than Jackson or Strait (though Lovett has been known to step out in thousand-dollar cowboy boots now and then). Keeping it sincere has kept Farmer afloat since the breakup. Playing with two of his three former band members, guitarist Paul Burnett and drummer Rod Roberts, hasn't hurt, either.
"Sittin' around playin' my guitar, without trying to make a career out of it, that's a lotta fun," Farmer says. "It's a wonderful release. But to turn it around and say, 'I want to make money doing this,' that throws a curveball at you. Now you have to promote yourself, consider marketing yourself, and you start writing stuff that can sell, not from the heart."
"Some guy said to me," Farmer continues, " 'Write some songs about Texas.' I said, 'Man, every song I write is about Texas.' "
By being himself and mining his emotions instead of setting Texas road maps to song, Farmer has become somebody who cannot be digested in a single melody or a quick glance. There's little on the surface to separate Farmer from the droves of other country performers out there. Farmer's just a young guy with a guitar, lyrics that are introspective yet never self-indulgent, and (now) glasses. If Farmer tried either the suburbanite or the rebel route, he would hit a dead end. His heart's into making top-notch music -- using whatever style fits his mood at the time, whether folk, country or rock. Doing anything else would be dishonest.
That's why we praise famous men, after all, especially those who toil from dusk to dawn for little recognition: for their honesty.
Later this month Farmer, with financial support from longtime friend Curtis Tarwater, plans to begin recording an album. In perfect Farmer fashion, he wants to record maybe one complete session with full instrumentation and one with only his guitar as accompaniment.
Farmer performs Saturday, June 10, as part of Blanco's third annual River Oaks Music Festival, which benefits the Musicians Benevolent Society of Houston, a group that during the past ten years has awarded $36,000 to area musicians to help with medical bills, expenses and loss of equipment. Owen Temple, Romeo Dogs, Leslie Newman, John Evans and numerous other acts will perform from 2 p.m. till close at Blanco's, 3406 West Alabama. General admission is $20. For more information or to make reservations (recommended), call (713)439-0072.
Some rave promoters are becoming so well organized their mothers probably wouldn't recognize them. Not only is the group that's producing MegaBlast offering a pre-party at AstroWorld, where MegaBlast ticket holders can gain access at a discounted rate, it is also providing out-of-town ravers discounted airfare via Southwest Airlines and lodging at a handful of AstroWorld-area hotels. The handiwork of Houston's Afterdark Productions and nearly a dozen local and national sponsors, MegaBlast features locals DJ Bizz, Bruno B and DJ Friendly alongside New York City's Micro and the UK's Platipus World Tour acts, Union Jack (live-PA), Art of Trance and Rhythm Masters, among others. Everything takes place Saturday, June 10, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Ticket prices vary. The location of MegaBlast is the Houston Expo Center, 17211 North Freeway. For more information, call (713)339-8052.
Black-on-white-key royalty performs at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park from Thursday, June 8, through Saturday, June 10, beginning at 7:30 p.m. each day. Aside from the touring acts for this year's Accordion Kings concerts, Houston's Le Roy Thomas and the Zydeco Road Runners perform Thursday, and local Lady D and the Zydeco Tornadoes perform Saturday. Yet don't miss Friday, when the hewwwwge talent of Keith Frank takes the stage. Admission is free. For more information, call (512)441-YALL. The Accordion Kings concert is made possible by Texas Folklife Resources.
And Elvis lives at Max's 2000, 2630 Augusta, where local hound dog Doni Simmons will be performing with his eight-piece band every Wednesday. For those who never had the pleasure of seeing the (real) King in action, such nonkaraoke performances are truly the next best things. For more information, call (713)781-8898. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12.50 at the door.
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